“The fact that we’re focused on health, not sickness, makes sense to people.”
--Rodger Dougherty, Kaiser spokesman
"Kaiser's focus on 'health' doesn't make quite so much sense when a patient happens to get sick. Some patients are actually quite surprised when Kaiser fails to properly diagnose and treat them. When they joined, they didn't realize that Kaiser's focus was quite as limited as it turned out to be."
--Maura Larkins, Kaiser patient
Kaiser picks Kearny Mesa site for new hospital
Dec. 1, 2011
Kaiser Permanente announced Thursday that it has ended months of study and picked the county operations property in Kearny Mesa as the site for its new hospital, rejecting an option to buy the Alliant University campus in Scripps Ranch.
The decision was met with disappointment by the university and relief by Scripps Ranch residents worried that a hospital would overwhelm the quiet leafy suburb with traffic.
The purchase price for the 19.5-acre County Operations Center Annex property on Ruffin Road is at least $30 million, but would run higher if Kaiser gets permits to build a hospital larger than 425,000 square feet. The sale is scheduled to close Dec. 31, 2013, according to county documents.
County Supervisor Ron Roberts said the site, now home to the Registrar of Voters and some other county offices, makes sense for a hospital.
“It’s served us well for many years but I think it’s a perfect site for Kaiser and it’s got great access from the freeway,” he said. “It would be very compatible with what’s planned in the Kearny Mesa area.”
The property sits at the busy corner of Ruffin Road and Clairemont Mesa Boulevard between Highway 163 and Interstate 15, in a mixed industrial and commercial area with a scattering of residential streets.
Kaiser intends to build and open a 350-bed hospital there by 2018, either replacing or augmenting its existing 392-bed hospital on Zion Avenue in Grantville. By 2030, that facility will no longer meet state earthquake standards and will either need to be torn down, rebuilt or undergo extensive retrofitting, Kaiser spokesman Rodger Dougherty said.
Kaiser officials have said they plan to build up to three hospitals around the county over the next two decades to keep pace with a steadily growing membership.
Dougherty said Kaiser has seen solid growth since 2008 as individuals and employers looked for affordable health care during the recession. Kaiser currently has 506,000 members in San Diego County, adding 14,000 this year, he said.
“We expect that trend to continue, given health care reform and our own model of care,” he said. “The fact that we’re focused on health, not sickness, makes sense to people.”
San Diego’s competitive health care market already is home to 19 hospitals, with a 20th due to open when Palomar Pomerado Health completes a $1 billion hospital in Escondido next year. Scripps Health, Sharp Healthcare and UCSD also are working on major expansions.
Kaiser’s announcement snuffs a pending deal between it and Alliant for the 60-acre campus, which faced stiff opposition from neighbors.
More than 300 people packed a Scripps Ranch Planning Group meeting in November and another 400 sent emails to oppose the Kaiser project over concerns about traffic, lights, noise, emergency evacuation routes and dozens of other issues, vice chairman Robert Ilko said.
Although it was too soon for the committee to take a position on the project, the community sentiment was obvious, Ilko said. “It was clearly no on Kaiser,” he said.
Alliant University president Geoffrey Cox said he was notified of the decision Thursday. “We’re very disappointed,” he said. “We thought it was a good project and fit well with the campus site.”
Cox said the university had decided to look for a new location before Kaiser approached it last spring. The sprawling campus, built 40 years ago for an undergraduate residential university, no longer fits a graduate-degree program with 1,500 day students, he said.
“We were in the very preliminary stages of looking for another site,” he said. “Now we’ll have to regroup and decide whether to continue that process right now.”
The Ruffin Road property has been part of a $460 million agreement between the county and Lowe Enterprises Real Estate Group. Under the agreement, Lowe is midway through redeveloping the 32-acre main County Operations Center on Overland Avenue and also has development rights on the Ruffin Road site.
In October, county supervisors voted to allow a transfer of development rights from Lowe to Kaiser for the Ruffin Road land, if Kaiser decided to proceed with a purchase. With that decision now made, the transfer of development rights should be completed within two weeks, said John Kross, deputy director of the county Department of General Services.
The closing date of December 2013 allows the county time to move departments at Ruffin Road over to new buildings at the main operations center.
The Lowe project envisioned a mixed residential and commercial development on Ruffin Road. Kearny Mesa Planning Group Chairman Buzz Gibbs said he thinks a hospital is more appropriate.
“Personally, I would much prefer a hospital there than residential,” he said. “Putting a couple of hundred units in an industrial area is a terrible idea.”